CARSON, Calif. (Saturday, June 9, 2007) -- For the second CONCACAF Gold Cup match in a row, the United States men managed a positive result, defeating Trinidad & Tobago 2-0 this afternoon at The Home Depot Center. However, the game was against what was in essence a semi-professional team and, in a match the Americans dominated from the start, they should have won by much more.
Still, the U.S. clinched advancement to the tournament quarterfinals with Tuesday's final Group B match against El Salvador in Foxborough, Mass., remaining. The U.S. sits atop the group as the only team at 2-0 and needs a draw to clinch first place, though the Americans could even win the group with a loss. "We need a point on Tuesday to win the group and now we have to get that job done." U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.
Today's game did not have a lot of suspense. The U.S. was in charge from the opening moments and its defense completely dominated. Except for a few brief moments in first-half stoppage time and in the closing moments, the Americans gave up almost nothing.
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller has had few international matches as easy as this one and he didn't need have to make any saves until making a pair of beautiful reaction saves at game's end. That was enough for him to extend his U.S. record to 47 clean sheets in his 99th appearance, set to become the 10th American player and second keeper to reach 100.
Both U.S. goals were scored as the result of great individual efforts, by Justin Mapp, who set up Brian Ching for an easy strike and a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute, and by Landon Donovan, whose charge down the left flank led to Eddie Johnson to one of his simplest finishes ever to make it 2-0 in the 54th.
It was almost laughable for the Americans not to have won by five or more goals. "We had some very good chances and we all know this was a day we could have scored more than two goals," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "Hopefully, we will improve in that area."
With the serious injury to Trinidad & Tobago defender Anthony Noriega in the 14th minute stopping play for approximately seven minutes while he was fitted with a cervical collar and wheeled off the field on a stretcher, the first half was without much rhythm. The U.S. had chance after chance, but could not finish. Johnson should have had two goals in the first three minutes, while Mapp and Ching should have added one each in the first 10 minutes.
T&T's three-man back-line conceded large amounts of space to the Americans throughout the match.
The U.S. took the lead when Mapp simply outran a defender to go around him and placed a pass into the middle for the onrushing Ching to knock home.
During the six minutes of time added onto the first half, the U.S. lost its organization and T&T had its best chances. An American foul resulted in a long free kick that whistled dangerously close. Some miscommunication between U.S. defenders Michael Parkhurst and Jay DeMerit on a through ball almost allowed a T&T striker in free and then Keller rushed a punt that caromed off an opponent.
Before the halftime whistle, Johnson sent a ball wide to Mapp who, in keeping with the first-half trend, failed to put away what should have been an easy goal.
Donovan came on to start the second half and, playing in the middle, soon began to make things happen. He created the second U.S. goal after he passed to himself to get around a defender in his own end, fed Ching and then took a return pass in full stride. As he carried deep down the right flank, he crossed to a wide-open Johnson who never had an easier goal, his first for the national team since February 2006.
With less than two days to recover from Thursday's physical 1-0 victory over Guatemala, Bradley used 10 new players with only midfielder Benny Feilhaber a holdover starter. Midway through the second half, Bradley replaced Ching with his son Michael and was forced to insert Taylor Twellman when Johnson went out with what was described as a "minor knee strain."
Meanwhile, the U.S. opponent was only a shadow of its 2006 World Cup team, with its top players skipping the Gold Cup because of a contract dispute. Among those coach Wim Rijsbergen brought in were a number of semi-professionals from T&T's domestic league.
Since T&T's World Cup high, things have gotten ugly. The World Cup players claim they are owed major money by the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation. Sixteen of the players, all missing from this tournament, have joined together and say they are ready to sue for breach of contract. Five others from the World Cup roster, including former English Premier League striker Dwight Yorke, declined invitations out of solidarity. Only one of the 23 players on T&T's World Cup roster -- midfielder Densil Theobold - played today.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6: Nothing much to do until the final few moments and then he showed why he is still one of the best, coming up with two great reaction saves.
Defender Frank Simek - 6: He played both on the outside and in the middle, and did quite well, at times ranging far forward and rarely getting into any trouble in the back.
Defender Michael Parkhurst - 5.5: In his first international appearance, he had a lot of help, but made few errors, allowing his marks nearly nothing until the final moments of both halves.
Defender Jay DeMerit - 6.5: He started on the right side of defense, but then moved into the center, where he is more comfortable, in the second half. Anchored the defense very well and showed he has to be considered for more playing time in the future.
Defender Jonathan Spector - 5.5: He was, perhaps, not as involved as some of the other defenders, but was solid all day and got forward into the attack from time to time.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark - 5: He had an up-and-down match. At times, he was strong defensively, but had some problems making the transition to offense.
Midfielder Justin Mapp - 6.5: Created the first goal and made some dazzling plays. But did not do much off the ball and was invisible for stretches.
Midfielder Benny Feilhaber - 5: Playing on two days rest, he had some quality touches, but did not seem to put out a significant effort.:
Midfielder Steve Ralston - 5.5: Was really not in the match much. Did some good defensive work but was rarely in the attack.
Forward- Eddie Johnson 5.5: Before he left with an injury, had a better match then in recent outings- and got his first goal in more than a year. But considering the opponent, and the amount of room he was given, he should have created more. He still tends to play timid and to pass off when he should shoot. But it was better than Thursday.
Forward Brian Ching - 6: He gave it a big effort and scored the first U.S. goal in the first half by hustling to get Mapp's cross, and then did well combining with Donovan to set up the second. But he had a number of chances he should have done better on.
Forward Landon Donovan (46th minute for Feilhaber) - 7: Playing in the center of the field, he dominated the second half. A fine effort.
Midfielder Michael Bradley (65th minute for Ching) - 5.5: Came on in a defensive role and did a satisfactory job until the final minutes when he got caught up in the confusion that led to T&T's best chances.
Forward Taylor Twellman (73rd minute for Johnson) 5.5: Rushed into the game when Johnson went down. Did not have much to do as the match dwindled to a close.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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